When your children start walking, don’t assume that you have to stop. Okay, so they no longer fit in the baby carrier, but you’ll be amazed by how much stamina there is in those little legs if you start them young and follow a few simple tips. Here’s our step-by-step guide to tearing kids away from the TV and onto the trail…
1. The route
Start gently with a short trip around the local country park – but first, get all of your walking gear on and tell them you’re going exploring. Afterwards, you could even pitch your tent in the garden: kids love an adventure.
Your first family hike needs careful planning. Make it circular, so there’s always something new to see, and plan a shortcut in case fatigue – or the weather – sets in. Don’t assume kids need level ground: they’ll much prefer scrambling over boulders or leaping a brook to slogging along a flat, featureless stretch of road. Grab the map, and help them pick out rivers, farms and railways, and talk about the ducks, pigs and trains they might encounter along the way. They could even draw up their own version of the route, and be the “leader”.
2. The gear
Children can teach us a lot about the “layering” system – they’ll take off a jumper when they’re too hot, then demand it back two minutes later! Put them in several light layers, so temperature is flexible, and make sure jackets are windproof as well as waterproof.
From our children’s range, consider teaming a Tech-T top (for both boys and girls), quick-drying with permanent odour protection, with a Neutron (boy’s) or Atlas (girl’s) jacket. The Neutron and Atlas both incorporate AQ2 fabric, which is highly waterproof, durable and breathable. They also have a zipped MP3 pocket with an internal exit point for headphones.
Decent footwear is a must, and our Raid boots are light, waterproof and perfect for low-level trail walking. A good investment is a small rucksack complete with whistle and torch, so they feel like a “proper walker” – and, of course, muesli bars, drinks and other treats.
3. On the trail
Keep boredom at bay. Let them strike out ahead and scout for the next waymarker: they’re more likely to spot birds, bunnies and other wildlife up front, too. Kids aren’t too fussy about nice views – instead, stones and similar booty from the path-side are more likely to grab their attention. Feed their imagination with stories about local folklore, stop to play hide-and-seek at castle ruins or build a den in the woods. You could even turn your walk into a treasure hunt: one point for a pine cone, two points for a snail shell, three for a dinosaur egg… you get the idea.
4. The recommended walks
• On the trail of dinosaurs Tap into your children’s passions. If they like dinosaurs, for example, check out the North Yorkshire coast. This was Britain’s original Jurassic Park and, on an exciting ramble along the rocky foreshore from Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar, you can hunt for the footprints of 180 million-year-old monsters. In summer, there are guided fossil hunts for families here (www.dinocoast.co.uk). Another great place for dino-hunting is Charmouth in Dorset, where the Heritage Coast Centre has lots of touchy-feely, child-friendly finds (www.charmouth.org), and organises family fossil safaris.
• From Winnie the Pooh to Watership Down Or perhaps they prefer story-time. In the Ashdown Forest, Sussex, you can follow the trail of A.A. Milne’s favourite children’s characters Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin through the real-life Hundred Acre Wood. It’s a child-sized wilderness of pine trees and gorse, and the Pooh Country map from East Grinstead tourism (www.eastgrinstead.gov.uk) points the way to Pooh Sticks Bridge, Roo’s Sandy Pit and the spot where Pooh fished Roo out of the river, using the “North Pole”. Older children might prefer a hop along the original Watership Down hill, from which author Richard Adams took the title of his famous book about rebellion in a rabbit warren. It is a 90-metre (300-foot) turf cliff on the Berkshire Downs, easily conquered via the signposted Wayfarer’s Walk, from Sydmonton village.
• Conquering new heights Once they’re ready for their first proper climb, consider Moel-y-Gest, outside Porthmadog on the fringes of Snowdonia. It’s just 244 metres (800-foot) high – a hill that thinks it’s a mountain – with some satisfyingly craggy rock-hopping on the mile-long path from Morfa Bychan to the summit. Even a five-year-old can conquer it – and for a reward, there are delicious ices at Cadwaladers Café in Porthmadog.